Longtime Farley bar changes hands but remains in family

FARLEY, Iowa — It wasn’t the easiest decision to come to, but in the end, it was the right one to make.

“I’m going to miss it a bit, but it’s just time — things are changing,” Randy Schroeder said of the decision to sell the business handed to him by his father 42 years ago. “Thanks for all the years and keep on coming back, we’ll take care of you just like we always have.”

Randy and his wife, Annie, have made the difficult choice to sell Bill’s Tap, a longtime staple of Farley’s downtown, but the establishment’s family tradition will live with Randy’s younger brother, Brian Schroeder, taking the helm.

Randy and Brian are from a family of 14 siblings, all of whom grew up around the bar. So when it was time for Randy to step down, Brian felt a sense of duty to take over the reins.

“There’s a lot of history here. I can remember being 5 years old playing cards in that bar,” Brian said. “Our family has been doing this since 1959, and I may be the second youngest, but I want to write the final chapter.”

The bar was first established by Willis E. Schroeder, who went by Bill, 62 years ago, and family has been an important theme ever since.

When Bill passed away at age 89 in 2019, he had 26 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

The times certainly have changed over the last four decades and it’s no secret that the pandemic was absolutely devastating for the bar industry. Fortunately, Randy said Bill’s Tap has made a full recovery.

“We got through it and the business now is better than I’ve ever seen it,” Randy said. “The people are coming back. The business is here. The people have been so loyal to us all these years and Farley is just a great town.”

Pandemic aside, a lot has changed about the business itself since Randy and Annie took over in 1979.

“When I started out, less than 10% of my business was food; now, 10% of my business is liquor and beer and 90% is food,” Randy said. “Things just change that way.”

While his last official day was July 31, Randy plans on stopping by from time to time to check in on his little brother and, perhaps, make sure his famous broasted chicken is being taken care of, although he has faith the bar is in good hands.

“I’m going to help through the transition, but Brian’s on top of it,” Randy said.

Brian already has a bevy of upgrades coming down the pipeline, including putting 20 beers on tap, installing new coolers and adding a wine selection, to name a few.

“If they still want the $2.75 bottle of beer, they got it, but if they want a bottle of Dom Perignon, they’ll have that, too,” he said.

Brian has also purchased the building adjacent to Bill’s and has plans to possibly turn it into a brewery.

Aside from building upon new ideas, Brian is also hoping to resurrect some other Bill’s traditions, like the annual hospice fundraising event, which historically could raise between $60,000 to $100,000.

“That was a good program and hospice is missing it because it was good money,” he said. “It was always on the first Monday in August, and I want to bring that back next year.”

As for the customers who have kept Bill’s alive all these years, Brian said they still get the same crowd in during the early morning hours to throw cards, and during the lunch hour it’s tough to find an empty seat — all great signs that base is here to stay.

And while the chicken is enough to write home about, Brian said a lot of the bar’s draw is the nostalgia.

“A lot of people who grew up and moved out of town will always come back here for the memories,” he said.

With the transition of ownership being described as a gradual process, Brian said there currently isn’t a set date for a big celebration, but once he gets his upgrades finished, he will throw a grand opening of sorts.

“I just hope to maintain the Bill’s tradition for the next generation,” Brian said. “I think the best is yet to come.”